You can’t find a cannabis cafe — somewhere patrons can eat or imbibe marijuana — in the city of Ketchikan. But on October 1, voters will decide whether they want on-site cannabis consumption in their town. It’s a question that sparked a spirited debate at a recent public forum.
On its face, the question seems simple. Anyone of age can go get an alcoholic beverage at their local bar — why shouldn’t the same be true of now-legal cannabis?
Lieutenant Governor Kevin Myers signed new regulations in March that allow licensed cannabis dispensaries to designate areas for on-site consumption. Localities, though, can opt out. Ketchikan’s city council decided to put the question to voters.
KRBD held a forum on on-site consumption Thursday.
Mark Woodward owns the Stoney Moose, a local cannabis shop. He says his local patrons can light up at home — something tourists can’t do.
“There’s no local legal place for them to go at all,” Woodward said.
But Reed Harding of the Ketchikan Wellness Coalition sees the issue very differently. He’s afraid of moving too quickly. He says people perceive their impairment from marijuana and alcohol much differently.
“Truth is, most people that smoke marijuana think it’s okay to drive when they’re high,” Harding said. “They just don’t feel like it impairs them as much as alcohol.”
And that’s exacerbated, he says, by the fact that it’s difficult to tell just how high someone is.
But pot shop proprietor Mark Woodward brushed off these concerns. He predicted most of his patrons would be visitors who aren’t driving around.
“And so we thought about creating an Uber and taxi plan with those companies that says if someone wants a ride home, we can provide that for them,” Woodward said.
Woodward brought up the tourism industry repeatedly throughout the forum. He says he’s seen law abiding cruise ship passengers who find themselves in an awkward situation.
“We have people that come in and beg us — ‘Hey, I want to follow the law. I want to do the right thing, but I’m not going to consume cannabis here or purchase it from your store because there’s no legal place for me to do it,'” Woodward said.
Woodward warned that banning cannabis cafes could put Ketchikan on the road to pot prohibition.
“Who knows,” Woodward said. “Maybe this is the first step in the city’s plan to get cannabis banned in the city limits altogether.”
“I think that’s a paranoid fantasy myself,” Ketchikan Wellness Coalition’s Reed Harding retorted.
He says voters should approve the ban, if only to give the community room to breathe.
“I think when you vote ‘yes’, you’re just saying ‘let’s hold off a little, let’s think about this,'” Harding said.
Proponents say banning onsite consumption in Ketchikan would be a step back for the community’s booming visitor industry. Opponents argue that all smoking is unsafe and the issue needs more study.
Juneau, Sitka, Anchorage and Fairbanks have set individual rules for on-site consumption. But no storefronts have actually opened yet so those ordinances remain untested. Ketchikan is the biggest city in Alaska that doesn’t allow cannabis cafes. And it’s the only place in Alaska putting a potential ban in front of voters.
You can listen to the full forum here. Two more forums are planned for this week: One Monday at 7 p.m. for Ketchikan Gateway Borough Mayor and another on Tuesday at 7 p.m. for borough assembly.